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We're pleased to join with a group of other NYC blogs in a collaboratively produced 2009 holiday guide. See the bottom of this entry for links to participating sites.

nissenbaum.jpgHow about putting a little history in your holiday basket? Stephen Nissenbaum's The Battle for Christmas is a perennial favorite around these parts.

Nissenbaum, in a highly entertaining narrative, shows not only that the American version of the holiday has been commercial from the start (the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade was a late arrival on that front), but also that it's what you'd call an "invented tradition." All the bits about Dutch origins were part of an effort among nineteenth-century New York gentry -- the self-anointed Knickerbocker set -- to create a colonial cultural heritage for themselves by establishing the social preeminence of their Dutch lineage, real or imagined. A byproduct: Santa Claus was able to sidestep an earlier Puritan bias against celebrating Christmas in the American colonies. Cyrus has summarized Nissenbaum's argument here before, but Santa Claus was smuggled into New York by the group of patricians also responsible for the New-York Historical Society (especially John PIntard) and writer-friends such as Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore.

Irving doesn't need so much introduction, but many readers may not have heard of Moore, or if they have they know him only for his poem "A Visit from St. Nicolas," more familiarly known by its first line: "Twas the night before Christmas." But Moore left his imprint all over the city, especially in Chelsea, the neighborhood named after his family estate. (His father was both the president of Columbia College and New York's Protestant Episcopal Bishop; his grandfather, a British officer, had purchased farmland in Chelsea in the 1750s, but the Moores had owned land in Queens since the 1650s.) After graduating Columbia as valedictorian in 1798, Moore dabbled in belles lettres and anti-Jeffersonian pamphleteering, compiled a two-volume English-Hebrew lexicon, and donated the land for the General Theological Seminary, where he was a professor of classical languages for three decades. (The seminary still stands, filling the entire block from Ninth to Tenth Avenues between West 20th and 21st Streets.)

Nissenbaum's The Battle for Christmas is especially good on making Moore's famous "A Visit from St. Nicolas," written in 1822, come alive in new ways. Ever wonder why the poem's narrator was so quick to spring from his bed to see what was the matter (rhymes with "clatter")? He probably thought a house-break was in progress. Christmas in early nineteenth-century New York, Nissenbaum suggests, had started to take on some of the elements of English seasonal misrule. But what had traditionally served as an escape valve -- allowing laborers to let off some steam but ultimately keeping social order in check -- was turning increasingly violent as a new industrial order demanded more of workers without giving much back. The mobs of working-class carolers who had traditionally demanded that rich folk bring them some figgy pudding -- insisting that they wouldn't leave until they get some -- were evolving into "Callithumpian bands" parading in the street making noise and committing acts of petty larceny. (One contemporary described these roving bands as made up of "Negroes, servants, boys, and other disorderly persons.")

I won't give much more away, but Nissenbaum argues that the significance of Moore's poem was to silence a little of that seasonal clatter, tame it to protect polite audiences. Santa Claus is a housebreaker, sure, but he's bringing gifts for the kiddies. The "patron-client exchange" that had defined seasonal misrule ("We won't go until we get some!") shifted to a parent-child exchange that made Christmas a domestic holiday rivaled only by the invented tradition of American Thanksgiving, taking shape around the same time. Moore's poem helped make Christmas "a practical simple ritual that almost any household could perform." The upshot: we have nineteenth-century New Yorkers, not seventeenth-century New Amsterdammers or their Old World parents, to thank for the cult of St. Nick and for Christmas trees. (Speaking of Christmas trees ...)

How to thank Mr. Moore? You might, like Cyrus's family, make his poem part of your own holiday ritual. (He recommends the pop-up edition by Robert Sabuda.) Or try one of these annual Moore Advent events:

Chelsea Community Church (346 W. 20th St.) holds an annual candlelight service and reading of Moore's poem. This year's event happens on December 13 at 6 pm. According to the NYC Parks & Rec website, at the nearby Clement Clarke Moore Park (W 22nd St. at 10th Ave.), neighborhood folk gather on the Sunday before Christmas for a reading of his poem. A similar event takes place uptown, in Washington Heights, at the Church of the Intercession (155th St. and Broadway), where people gather for carols, a reading of Moore's poem, and a candlelight march to Moore's grave site, in the Trinity Cemetery on 155th Street. This celebration has apparently been going on since 1911; this year it takes place December 20 at 4 pm.

A few other historically oriented seasonal suggestions:

If you'd like to seek out a patrician New York Christmas that predates Moore's poem (and hence is decidedly not Santa-centered), check the seasonal calendar for the eighteenth-century Van Cortlandt House Museum in the Bronx.

Jewish historians of Christmas, Episcopalian compilers of Hebrew lexicons, and Tin Pan Alley's Jewish Christmas Broadway musicals notwithstanding, maybe Christmas just isn't your thing? Then you probably already know the traditional alternative for December 25 is dim sum. We're not exactly sure when this practice started, but the big decision, these days, is whether to go with Jing Fong or Golden Unicorn. When you're finished eating, work off some calories on Big Onion's 19th Annual Dec. 25 walking tour of the old Jewish Lower East Side.

George Balanchine's Nutcracker has been a tradition in New York City since 1954. The very thought may make you yawn. If so, did you know that Uptown Dance Academy has been performing Black Nutcracker since 1995? Catch it at the Apollo Theater on December 22nd; proceeds go toward a new studio for the kids.

If you'd like to revive a non-commercial historic NYC holiday tradition, try "calling on" (visiting) as many friends as possible on New Year's Day. You'll need to bring the equivalent of a photographic calling card to leave behind. I suppose you could do something like this on Facebook, but we're fans of the slow media version that requires actual travel from house to house. We wrote about it last holiday season, as did our friend Esther at Ephemeral New York.
A final suggestion for those who'd prefer to bring a little misrule back to your yule: you might consider joining in the annual Parade of Santas in Santacon NYC 2009, on December 12. Be warned: though some participants will be decked out in period costumes, you may also encounter pub crawlers with puke in their beards. (Putting the ho back in ho! ho! ho! since 1994. A little Santacon history here.) We suggest it in the spirit of the nineteenth-century Callithumpian bands, mentioned above. 

Discover lots more in the 2009 "NYC Bloggers Do the Holidays" Guide:

Brooklyn Based: Home for the Holidays
Give and Get: Tis The Season to Volunteer
the improvised life: unwrapping the holidays
Manhattan User's Guide: The Gift Guide
Mommy Poppins: Offbeat and Multicultural Family Holiday Events
NY Barfly: It's the Holidays, Time to Drink
NewYorkology: Big-ticket holiday shows: Nutcracker, Rockettes, Wintuk
Ten Holiday Getaways Near NYC
the skint: 30 days of skintmas - a cheap (or free!) holidays-in-nyc-treat for every day of the season
The Strong Buzz:
Holiday Eats Old and New
WFMU's Beware of the Blog: Happy Freakin' Holidays Playlist
Walking Off the Big Apple
: The Thin Man Walk: A New York Holiday Adventure with Nick and Nora Charles

If you write a NYC-oriented blog and would like to contribute to a future group post, please let us know!
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Holidays upon us

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I'll spend most of today making my way back to New York -- back over the river and through the woods, if you will -- but I wanted to alert readers to mark your calendars for tomorrow: we'll be offering up some history-oriented holiday suggestions as part of a multi-blog city guide to the season. We'll include links to the several other fine websites participating. See you then!

photo from's archive of a 2007 alumni trip to the city.


If you've been digging Alex's downtown then-and-now photos, check out these archival images from Harlem -- paired with what's (not) there now. [Harlem Bespoke]

Parks Department calls for volunteers on Saturday to clean up and help preserve the old New York State Pavilion in Queens. Meanwhile, Queens Crap readers raise their eyebrows. [HDC Newsstand; Queens Crap]

Or you can spend the weekend on one or more Brooklyn gallery tours. [Bed-Stuy Blog]

Brooklyn bonus from Brooks! "FYI, there is still room for a few more on the Nov. 29, Thanksgiving weekend walking tour of Carroll Gardens West/Columbia Heights Waterfront District. Please let me know if you'd like to join us." [Lost New York]

Or you can get ready for Thanksgiving by giving thanks with "Native American Circle" on the Harlem River. [Bronx Mama]

And plan ahead for a post-Thanksgiving tour of historic Richmond Town with the Staten Island Historical Society [NYC Arts]

Photo of the old Corn Exchange Building from Harlem Bespoke: "This was the section that was largely visible from the Metro North platform for the last 100 years until the city demolished it in the past six weeks."

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The following things are happening somewhere other than Manhattan below 14th street:


Forget bedbugs ... Queens Crap's readers debate the great ladybug invasion of 2009! [QC]

Miss Heather's Greenpoint-based New York Shitty wins the VOICE's "best of NYC" award for neighborhood blogs [VV]

Roosevelt Islanders want the Google Trike to come before it's too late! [RI]

Boogie Downer reminds readers that Saturday is It's My Park! Day throughout NYC [BD]

Move over Meatpacking! When Madonna ruled Staten Island's North Shore ... [SIL]

Okay, that last story deserves its own YouTube link. Now that's some New York nobody else is singing:

What's happening outside my neck of the woods?


The queen of food porn takes a trip to Woodside, Queens. [TGWAE]

Brooklyn by Bike plans a street vendor odyssey for Sunday (rain date the 25th). [BbB]

Bronx Bohemian is back, with the long-awaited second part of an interview with Bronx Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan. [BB]

The lowdown on the Uptown Salon: "This month marks the first anniversary of Harlem's Uptown Salon, a showcase and forum for the discussion of creative work, and an organization that seeks to foster a tightly knit artistic community in Harlem and the Upper West Side." (tonight!) [Free NYC]

Count us among those who're glad that Walking Is Transportation, our favorite Staten Island blog, is back. Here's a lovely meditation on writing and waterfronts. [WIT]


New Brighton painter Bill Murphy's heroic Along Arthur Kill (watercolor on paper, 54 x 62, 2007-08). Information: [painting via Walking Is Transportation]

The last time I checked our official Cambridge Companion page I was delighted to see that we officially have a cover. Even more delighted to see that they used the painting we recommended, by the Czech painter T. F. Simon:


The volume's due out in March. We just received proofs and think it looks pretty fantastic.

Some other highlights of the week ... via Stupefaction, a preview for a new film exploring the idea of "downtown" in the late 70s and early 80s. Narrated by Debbie Harry, Downtown Calling seems to have a special interest in exploring hip hop and underground dance. It premieres later this month in Austin.

Friends from LA are in town for a few days playing some shows. I caught them last night at Mercury Lounge and they're playing again at Union Hall in Brooklyn tomorrow. Not a lot of huge NYC content in this entry, if it weren't for the lovely and talented Sara Lov, the member of this tour I know best, who has a sweet little song called "New York":

Sara, who formerly fronted the band Devics, plays her set backed by a turntable that plays the instrumental tracks to her songs while she sings. I thought the trick worked quite well. Another LA band, Sea Wolf, headlines: friends of friends, they play perfectly pleasant indie rock. They had a nice crowd last night. My daughters have listened to them for the last few years and I took one of them, the 8th grader, to yesterday's sound check, since the show was 21+. Thanks to Sara and Tim for being so sweet to her while we were there.

And now? I think I'm going to go check out the much written about lobster rolls at Luke's. They're half the price of my favorites, at Ed's. I wonder if they'll only be half as good? Half the lobster? I'll report back.

This is a bit of a precursor to the next annotated conference program post, which I'll put up this afternoon. Before I introduce the bloggers we've asked to talk on Saturday afternoon about the relationship between blogging, literary culture, and cultural memory, I wanted to offer a sort of umbrella view of the NYC blogosphere, at least from where I sit in downtown Manhattan.

Over the last year or so, on the links page of my personal website, I've gradually accumulated a hefty set of links to NYC-oriented blogs. I don't claim to be comprehensive: I generally make a quick pass through a site I've stumbled across and give it a quick thumbs up or down based on a few set criteria. Is it oriented toward a specific neighborhood or borough or the city in general -- or even toward a particular aspect of the city -- as much as it is toward the idiosyncratic details of the blogger's day? (I don't have the time or space for every New Yorker's livejournal, in other words.) Is the blog fairly active? (If the most recent entry is already a month old I won't include it.) And does its take on the city comport with the roughest outlines of my own? Now, that last question may sound a little harsh, and when you see the list below I think you'll find that my umbrella is pretty broad. But I am aware of at least a few blogs geographically and/or spiritually rooted in certain neighborhoods I don't really care for, or focusing on items such as cupcakes or high fashion that really don't float my boat, and I've simply chosen not to include them. As Cyrus repeatedly reminds me, attempts at cosmopolitanism aren't the same thing as an uncritical cultural relativism. Maybe there's a place for pink blogs about shoes written by Carrie Bradshaw wannabes on the Upper East Side, but that place isn't my own personal links page.

Still, I love the fact that this set of links constantly expands in size and in the breadth of material it takes in, from Central Park birding photos to love-hate relationships with The New Yorker. As Cyrus and I have tried to map out what our own single-volume cultural history of New York will look like, we've confronted head-on the difficulty of reining in so much culture. What's not going on here, I ask you? And then there's the five borough problem: I've tried to maintain -- and to publicize, though my occasional Friday links posts -- a handle on blogging that's rooted uptown or in outer-boroughs, though my daily reads tend to gravitate toward neighborhoods and interests adjacent to my own. Is that provincial?

Enough preamble. What I really want to put out there is the list. So take a look. Tell us if there's something here you particularly like. Or hate. Or if you have a blog we should note or know of one you wish had been included. I'd like to compete with City Room for the most comprehensive city blogroll. Well, and still maintain my standards of course. If you'd prefer to see the links in a single column, click here and scroll down until you've passed the NYC Cultural History Resources.

NYC blogs

AIANY Blog Central Animal New York ArtCal ArtSlant Art Fag City Be in Brooklyn Bed-Stuy Banana Bed-Stuy Blog Bitch Cakes Bitch Cakes Commutes Blah Blog Blah Bloggy Bowery Boogie The Bowery Boys Brokelyn Bronx Bohemian Brooklynometry Brooklyn by Bike Brooklyn Diners Brooklyn Parrots Brownstoner Burn Some Dust (Blog) BushwickBK The City Birder City Room (NYTimes) City Snapshots Civic Center Residents Coalition Colonnade Row Curbed East Village History Project Blog East Village Idiot East Village Podcasts Eating in Translation Emdashes Ephemeral New York EV Grieve Fading Ad Blog Fecal Face NYC Flaming Pablum Forgotten New York Found in Brooklyn Free NYC Fucked in Park Slope The Girl Who Ate Everything Gotham Lost and Found Gothamist Gowanus Lounge Greater New York Greenpointers Greenwich Village Daily Photo Harlem Bespoke Harlem Hybrid A History of New York Historic Districts Council Newsstand Holla Back NYC Hotel Chelsea Blog Hunter-Gatherer Idealist in NYC I Hate The New Yorker I Shot New York I Spy NYC Inside the Apple Inwoodite It Was Her New York John Egan Harp Lens liQcity Lower East Side History Project Blog Kinetic Carnival Knickerbocker Village Lost City MaNNaHaTTaMaMMa The Masterpiece Next Door The Met Everyday Metroblogging NYC Mommy Poppins My NYC in Color Neither More Nor Less Newyorkette NewYorkology New York Daily Photo The New York Nobody Sings New York Portraits New York Shitty New York Yak Not for Tourists NY Art Beat NYC Garden NYC-grid NYC The Blog NYC Rhymology Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn Plain in the City The Origin of Species Out My Window NYC Queens Crap Roosevelt Island 360 Roosevelt Islander Runnin' Scared (VVoice) Save the Lower East Side Scouting New York Second Avenue Sagas Second Circuit Blog Sense & the City Shooting Brooklyn Slum Goddess Streetsblog Street Level Stupefaction Subway Blogger Tenement Museum Blog Today in NYC History An Unamplified Voice Untapped New York Uptown Flavor Urban Hawks Urbanite (AMNY) Vanishing New York Walking Is Transportation Walking Off the Big Apple Washington Square Park We Heart New York What about the Plastic Animals? Who Walk in Brooklyn Williamsburg Is Dead Writermama Young Manhattanite


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AHNY friend and former Writing New York TA Spence Keralis passes on a link to a wonderful, continuously expanding site sponsored in part by New York Public Library: Abecedarium:NYC.

The project's blog describes the site this way:

Abecedarium:NYC is an interactive online exhibition that reflects on the history, geography, and culture -- both above and below ground -- of New York City through 26 unusual words. Using original video, animation, photography and sound, Abecedarium:NYC constructs visual relationships between these select words and specific locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.

Each word -- whether it's A for audile or Z for zenana -- leads to a different short video and a location in the city that you may never have experienced before. In selenography (the study of the moon), amateur astronomers celebrate the wonders of the night sky at Staten Island's Great Kills State Park. In open city (a metropolis without defense), the ruins of military installations throughout the five boroughs decay with time. Chatty teenagers in a Flushing, Queens cafe drink bubble tea in xenogenesis (the phenomenon of children markedly different from their parents). In diglot (a bilingual person), a Chinese accountant, Albanian baker, Palestinian falafel maker, Argentine film archivist and Cuban cigar maker speak candidly about their daily routines. In mofette (an opening in the earth from which carbon monoxide escapes) mysterious gases flow from gaps in the streets of Manhattan.

The experience of visiting Abecedarium:NYC is more than watching, listening and learning. Visitors to the project are invited to respond to existing content as well as to share their own experience of New York City by contributing original videos, soundscapes, photos or texts to the project blog. As more users contribute, the project grows in size, scope and experience, and transforms into a destination for sharing and learning about every facet of the city.

The blog itself is a little odd: if you want to see posts in chronological order, you'll have to search under the "dates" tab at the head of the welcome page. The whole thing seems designed to lead you down the path of hours spent exploring.

The perfect site for people who love words as much as they love New York.

I've long used this clip of party-goers in the Hamptons, 1987, to make me feel better about being in town on Labor Day. What a clip! Pick your favorite character:


Same party, two decades (and one year) later. A hundred years from now, which one will be more obnoxious?

Sign me up

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Not sure exactly how this sign ended up at the Morgan Ave. stop on the L, but according to New York Shitty it's connected to the MCNY exhibit Cyrus wrote about here some time back. Exhibit has a nice coffee-table book associated with it, too. I've got a birthday coming up this week. I'm just putting that out there.

Photo warms my heart for some reason. (h/t Jeremiah)

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